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Posts Tagged ‘tom martin’

Blow, Winds
Written by Nancy Bell, Music and Lyrics by Lamar Harris, Additonal Material by Mariah L. Richardson
Directed by Tom Martin
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, Shakespeare In the Streets
June 16, 2018

Reginald Pierre, Erika Flowers Roberts, Joneal Joplin, Adam Flores, Michelle Hand
Photo: Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

 

Shakespeare in the Streets is back again, after a postponement, with an important, challenging message for St. Louis. Based on Shakespeare’s King Lear, Blow, Winds departs from previous SITS productions–which each featured a particular neighbhorhood–and focuses on the St. Louis metro area as a whole. In many ways, this production–presented on the steps of the Central Library downtown–is the most polished of the SITS productions, as well as the most visually spectacular and the most directly challenging to the “status quo” of the St. Louis area.

Blow, Winds was originally scheduled to be performed in September 2017, but was canceled due to unrest following the verdict for police officer Jason Stockley, charged with first-degree murder in the death of Anthony Lamar Smith, and subsequently and controversially acquitted. The original program for the scheduled production is included in the program for the 2018 presentation, in fact. The 2018 version, however, isn’t the same production as was previously planned. Now it’s been revised, with additions by SFSTL Playwriting Fellow Mariah L. Richardson, to more accurately reflect the state of St. Louis after, and because of, that controversial and troubling verdict. Based on King Lear but modified to reflect modern-day St. Louis, the show also makes a tonal change from the straight tragedy of Lear to a more comedy-drama approach, certainly with tragic elements but with a more hopeful twist at the end. The Shakespeare characters have also been modified, with some composite characters representing two or more original Lear characters, and one instance where one original character has been split into two. Also, as musical as the previous SITS efforts have been, this one is even more so, with an original score by music director Lamar Harris and significant contributions from the Central Baptist Church Choir, the Genisis Jazz Project, and the Gentlemen of Vision Step Team.

In this story, King Lear becomes King Louis (Joneal Joplin), an aging king who decides to divide his kingdom–the St. Louis metro area west of the Mississippi River, represented by a large map hanging up on the face of the Central Library building–among his four children, his daughters Goneril, (Jeanitta Perkins), Regan (Katy Keating), and Cordelia (Erika Flowers Roberts) and his “illegitimate” son Edmund (Reginald Pierre). While Regan and Goneril are focused on their own advancement and flatter their father insincerely, Cordelia refuses to flatter and asks only for justice, and is banished from St. Louis while her greedy sisters are rewarded, and Edmund is given the “less desirable” North section of the map and essentially exiled there by his father. Cordelia flees to the Kingdom of Illinois, welcomed by its king (Jaz Tucker), who gladly marries her and supports her cause. Also exiled is the king’s faithful counselor Kent (Michelle Hand), who criticizes his treatment of Cordelia and Edmund. Through the course of the play, Louis slowly but definitively learns the error of his ways, as the shallowness of his elder daughters and the truth of Cordelia’s and Edmund’s causes is brought to light for him. All the while, the action is narrated by the Fool (Adam Flores), who serves as something of a Greek Chorus and occasional translator of the Shakespearean language into more modern speech. The Central Baptist Church choir and Gentlemen of Vision Step Team also contribute memorably to the production, with the dance and movement elements among the highlights of the production.

The technical elements here are the strongest and most striking yet for a SITS production. The distinctive Central Library building makes an ideal backrop for the action, aided by some truly stunning projections by scenic designers Marjery and Peter Spack, as well as excellent lighting by John Wylie and memorable costumes by Jennifer “JC” Krajicek. The steps make an ideal stage, setting off the performance well, and the cast is excellent, led by Flores as a particularly earnest Fool, Joplin as the conflicted and self-deceived King Louis, Perkins and Keating as the unapologetically greedy sisters Goneril and Regan, Hand as the devoted Kent, Pierre as the rejected but determined Edmund, and Roberts as the also determined, justice-minded Cordelia. They are supported by an excellent ensemble, as well, including the truly impressive performances from the aforementioned Central Baptist Church choir and Gentlemen of Vision Step Team.

The story is compelling and challenging, adapting the Lear story to focus on St. Louis in some specific, sometimes funny and often serious ways, with references to the oft-asked “high school” question as well as neighborhood and city landmarks, as well as serious questions about the need for racial and economic justice and equality in the area. Occasionally there are tendencies to “tell” rather than “show” in terms of the play’s message, but overall, this is an important work, showcasing the strengths of the Shakespeare In the Streets concept. There were only two performances of this production, and I’m glad I was able to see one of them. It’s a remarkable production.

Cast of Blow, Winds
Photo by J. David Levy
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

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Closer
by Patrick Marber
Directed by Tom Martin
Theatre Lab
January 14, 2017

Larissa White Photo by Justin Foizey Theatre Lab

Larissa White
Photo by Justin Foizey
Theatre Lab

Closer isn’t exactly a pleasant play. Essentially a character study of four interconnected lives in modern London, Patrick Marber’s play doesn’t exactly present easy situations or easy to like characters. It’s a gritty world of single Londoners looking for love, sex, validation, identity, and more. As the newest production from Theatre Lab, Closer can be fascinating, with some strong performances and clever staging. It’s an ambitious production that is certainly thought-provoking, but it’s not without flaws.

The story follows four Londoners and their increasingly messy intertwined relationships. We first meet the young, iconoclastic Alice (Larissa White) in a hospital emergency room after she’s been hit by a car after trying to cross the street without looking. She’s been “rescued” by Dan (Brock Russell), an aspiring author who writes obituaries for a newspaper, and the two begin a relationship that continues on and off throughout the course of the play. There’s also Larry (Andrew Michael Neiman), an unsuspecting doctor who happens to be there on the same day Alice and Dan meet, although it’s not until later that he’s brought into something of a bizarre love square when the manipulative Dan tricks him by way of an internet sex chat room into meeting photographer Anna (Gabrielle Greer), who likes Larry but shares something of an addictive attraction with Dan, despite the fact that Dan is still in a relationship with Alice. In the midst of all the romantic entanglements, the characters pursue their career goals and dreams, experiencing success, failure, and the challenges of compromise of ideals and struggles with ego and entitlement. The first act comes across more as a catalog of selfishness, as the character pursue their romantic, sexual and career goals with little thought of the others involved. This is the kind of play that might make you hate it if you only watch the first act, but the second act explores the characters and their situations with more depth, essentially deconstructing the situations and characters to challenge their own senses of who they are and their purpose in life.

It’s a fascinating character study, and to make this play work, casting and chemistry are essential. This production is cast well in terms of the individual performances, but its biggest flaw is a lack of chemistry in one of the key relationships, that between Dan and Anna. Greer is excellent as the conflicted and mostly well-meaning Anna, and Russell is convincing as the manipulative, needy Dan, but I just didn’t believe the intense connection and electric attraction the two are supposed to share. Both have much better chemistry with the other cast members. I believe Greer’s connection with Neimain’s earnest but hapless Larry, and Russell’s with White’s yearning, damaged Alice, but the Dan/Anna match made little sense to me as played out here. Still, it’s a compelling work of theatre, and the performances are strong in every other area, with White being the particular standout for her sometimes fierce, sometimes fragile portrayal of a complex, enigmatic character. All of the performers also exhibit credible if not perfect English accents, as well.

Technically, the show is more on the minimalist side, being staged on a mostly bare stage. Scenic designer Mark Wilson’s set relies largely on some movable furniture and on highly evocative projections. Wilson’s lighting is also striking and memorable, and the players are outfitted by costume designer Marcy Weigert in suitable attire ranging from Dan’s more preppy looks to Alice’s colorful, outrageous ensembles.

Closer is well-staged piece, although the passage of time is sometimes not as clear as it could be. The sense of tension builds well, especially in the emotionally charged second act. It’s a challenging, sometimes difficult play examining the relationships of characters that aren’t always likable, but as portrayed at Theatre Lab, they still manage to be fascinating, especially in their relationships even though one isn’t particularly convincing. Like the story itself and its characters, this production is worth getting to know even with its imperfections.

Andrew Michael Neiman, Gabrielle Greer Photo by Justin Foizey Theatre Lab

Andrew Michael Neiman, Gabrielle Greer
Photo by Justin Foizey
Theatre Lab

 Theatre Lab is presenting Closer at the .ZACK in Grand Center until January 22, 2017.

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The K of D: An Urban Legend
by Laura Schellhardt
Directed by Tom Martin
Blue Rose Stage Collective
October 16, 2014

Em Piro Photo by Todd Heilman Blue Rose Stage Collective

Em Piro
Photo by Todd Heilman
Blue Rose Stage Collective

“Who has a ghost story?’  Director Tom Martin asked audience members to share their own spooky stories while gathered around a campfire before the beginning of Blue Rose Stage Collective’s latest production, a one-woman show called The K of D: An Urban Legend. Staged in an environment that lends very well to the story at hand and featuring a very welcome return to the stage by Em Piro, this is a successful slice-of-life story with a slightly creepy edge that serves as an excellent lead-in to the Halloween season.

After a few minutes of audience-contributed stories, Piro chimes in with “I got one”, and then jumps right into the performance, which tells a fascinating tale that’s part horror show, part coming-of-age dramedy.  The story follows young Charlotte and her gang of friends in semi-rural Ohio.  All sorts of strange events occur after Charlotte’s twin brother, Jamie, is killed by a car driven by local bully Johnny Whistler.  Just before he dies, Jamie gives Charlotte a kiss, which leads to her developing an unusual power.  Thus ensues “The Summer of the Death”, as the gang’s would-be ring leader, Quisp, calls it, and what unfolds is a mixture of episodes and anecdotes in the lives of Charlotte, her parents, and her friends as they deal with Jamie’s death, new neighbor Johnny’s intimidation, and strange events happening around the lake where the kids like to hang out. Is that new heron that flies around near the lake just a bird, or is it something more? And what about the animals that keep turning up dead? The answers to these questions lie in the richly-scripted story brought to life in Piro’s animated performance.

Apparently, this show was originally performed in a more traditional stage setting, although the way it’s performed here seems simply ideal.  Pairing the performance with an informal, nostalgic campfire setting is a stroke of genius from director Tom Martin and Piro.  In a backyard setting of an unassuming house called “The Revisionist Inn” on Cherokee Street, audience members are invited to enjoy hot cider, cheap beer, roasted marshmallows and homemade cherry cobbler as they gather in folding chairs around the fire.  The play takes place on a rough wooden stage with a deceptively simple setup including a wind machine, shadow box and simple but striking lighting by Mark Wilson, and an atmospheric soundtrack by Billy Croghan, performed by Croghan and Gavin Duffy. All these elements work together well to provide a fully immersive theatrical experience. Audience members don’t just show up and watch a play.  They are brought into the action through the excellent use of location and atmosphere, and also through Piro’s dynamic performance.

Piro is better known these days as the mastermind behind St. Lou Fringe, but this performance is a reminder of how great an actress she is.  It’s been 3 years since she took to the stage, and it’s been too long. She’s a wonderful performer, taking on multiple roles with seemingly boundless energy, clearly defining the different characters with instant changes in voice and posture. Through Piro’s skilled portrayals, we get to meet shy young Charlotte, brash Quisp, snarky Steffi, protective Trent and talkative Brett, Charlotte’s parents, menacing Johnny, and more.  With a skilled sense of timing, Piro manages to hold the stage for about two hours while maintaining her energy and pacing. The show is never boring, the story moves very quickly, and the quick shifts in character are never confusing.  I’m notoriously squeamish when it comes to horror stories, but this turned out to be the kind I like–more story than horror, and Piro has proven to be a consummate storyteller in bringing to life Laura Schellhardt’s excellent script.

The K of D strikes me as a perfect project for Piro, actually, since it has the feel of a full-length Fringe production.  She, Martin, and the rest of their crew have managed to bring a very experimental, home-grown air to this production that works incredibly well.  It’s sure to bring back memories of childhood, local legends and campfire stories, with just the right mixture of realism and ghostly creepiness that makes the best urban legends so fascinating.  It’s a supreme blend of material and presentation with only one weekend left in its run.  Go ahead, grab some cider and roast some marshmallows, pull up a chair and allow yourself to be transported. It’s a real treat.

Em Piro Photo by Todd Heilman Blue Rose Stage Collective

Em Piro
Photo by Todd Heilman
Blue Rose Stage Collective

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